Heinzman: While people go hungry, school food waste goes to pigs

At a time when people are starving and food shelves are begging for food, public school food waste from some area districts is being fed to pigs.

School districts are paying farmers to feed waste food to pigs or to compost it. Districts know that if heavier food is removed from the school waste food stream, then their trash bill will be lower.

Don Heinzman
Don Heinzman

Somehow, there is a disconnect that should concern us.

Students obviously are not eating all the school lunch items on their trays.

In the Forest Lake school district, paper is separated from the food waste stream in some schools, and the food waste is sold by the barrel to Pete Barthold, who feeds it to his pigs on a farm near St. Francis.

You can argue that at least the uneaten food is recycled into pigs’ stomachs rather than being dumped into landfills.

Forest Lake isn’t the only school district feeding its waste food to pigs. Other districts are in Stillwater, Eden Prairie, Chisago, St. Paul, St. Francis and St. Cloud. In Hennepin County, the waste food is recycled through various means.

So, what’s going on here? The simple answer is students, for whatever reason, are not eating all of the food on their trays.

Why not? One reason may be the school lunches have to include one cup of fruit or vegetables a day to qualify for federal reimbursement; perhaps students don’t like more vegetables.

Guidelines also require lunches have no more than 30 percent fat calories and less than 10 percent saturated fat. Fewer calories from fat results in kids gaining fewer pounds, another worthy objective.

Still, what about the food waste from schools?

This problem partly could be traced to the home, where busy parents either are preparing fast foods or ordering take-out meals.

Years ago, at 6 p.m., the entire family sat down and ate what was on their plates, because that’s all they were served. There were no options. Activity schedules, however, have changed the kitchen into a short-order facility.

Now, school nutritionists are developing options with salad bars and different food lines, particularly in the middle and high schools.

No matter what the reason, school districts have to get rid of food waste, once called garbage.

Barthold has been feeding school food scraps to his pigs for 25 years. And by regulation, he must cook the food at 212 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes.

There apparently is no easy answer to the amount of school food waste, except for families, food preparers and students to concentrate on having less of it.

This is food for thought.

— Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers

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